Texas is a hub for human trafficking, but Austin City Councilwoman Mackenzie Kelly hopes to make her city a place where those being trafficked can find help.
According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Texas ranks No. 2 in the nation for the number of human trafficking cases. The AG reports that “3,559 substantive contacts were made in Texas in 2020, resulting in 987 human trafficking case reports.”
Kelly says she learned the extent of human trafficking when she went to a homeless encampment as part of a ride-along with the Austin police.
“I met a woman who was in distress. I spoke with the sergeant about her situation, and he let me know that she was being sex trafficked in the camp,” Kelly explains. “At that point, it broke my heart because it occurred to me that she couldn’t be the only person experiencing homelessness in this type of situation. Our city needs to do more to help these people get lifted out of their situation.”
The resolution Kelly authored and spearheaded will provide resources to companies that contract with the city that will enable them to get training on identifying the victims of sex trafficking, particularly among the city’s homeless population.
This measure includes, but is not limited to:
- Providing educational materials describing indicators of human exploitation and trafficking to be displayed by non-profits or vendors that enter contracts with the City related to homelessness or housing.
- Providing appropriate resources to ensure vendors who enter into contracts with the City have the skills to safely report suspicious activity to the proper authorities, including those from agencies such as the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- Working with the Austin Chamber of Commerce to encourage local business participation.
- Supporting victims of human trafficking through referrals to available support services.
- Displaying educational materials describing indicators of human exploitation and trafficking in permanent supportive housing, bridge shelters, or overnight shelters owned or operated in the city, and all city buildings.
In addition, the resolution encourages the Texas Legislature and the Austin community to support enabling legislation to end human trafficking.
“I hope this resolution brings awareness to the issue of human trafficking,” Kelly told Austin Journal. “My intention is to also ensure that social service providers within the city have the skills needed to recognize signs of human trafficking and enable the victims of human trafficking to get the support they need to recover.”